Big Joe scales new peak on night of emotion
Joe Kernan breezed through the Croke Park Hotel two hours before the start of Saturday's International Rules game, looking very much like a man who had it all figured out.
"We're ready for it. Our boys are all set," he said.
And so they were. By 9pm, the Cormac McAnallen Cup was in Bernard Brogan's hands after a thrilling victory, which stretched Ireland's lead to 21-17 with two draws from the 40 Tests played since 1984.
It was a special occasion for Kernan as he became the first man to have managed his club (Crossmaglen Rangers) and county (Armagh) to All-Ireland glory, his province to Railway Cup success and his country to an international Test win.
It's quite a haul and leaves just one more frontier to be broken when he attempts to steer Ireland to victory in Australia next year.
Kernan brought Kerry legend Jack O'Shea, one of the great International Rules players, in to present the Irish jerseys to the Irish squad on Friday night and was taken by a comment which struck exactly the right note.
"He said he had a set of All-Ireland medals but every time he gets talking to people about football, they ask him about the International Rules. It made a big impression on the lads," said Kernan.
It's easy to be sceptical about the International Rules game, with critics claiming it's a waste of time. That ignores one important reality: the players enjoy it as it offers them a rare experience which they savour. That was underlined by Bernard Brogan, who added another string to his lengthy bow by captaining Ireland to victory.
"When Joe called me eight or nine weeks ago and asked me to lead the team, he told me to keep it quiet for four weeks, which was awful hard to do," said Brogan.
"It's a phenomenal honour to lead your country, to go out with players you have been playing against all year."
A special ceremony to mark the 95th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday shootings in Croke Park in 1920 was held before the game, during which torches were lit in memory of the 14 people who died on what GAA president Aogán ó Fearghail described as "one of the most profound days the GAA has ever known".
Together with director-general Páraic Duffy, he laid a wreath at the spot in front of Hill 16 where Tipperary footballer Michael Hogan was shot by British troops.
It was fitting that Ireland marked the occasion with a win, which was built off their excellence in the first half. "We lost our composure a bit in the second half still but had the resilience to grind it out in the end. That's a great sign of any group," said Kernan.